In 1992, at the age of 50, a professor of English literature named Donna Leon published Death at La Fenice. The novel won a major literary award and set her off on writing a series of sequels, now numbering 25. Set in Venice, where Leon has been living for the past 25 years, these skillful police procedurals feature Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Italian police. Though translated into many languages from Leon’s native English, Italian is not among them. That’s as Leon herself requested. Since the series reflects poorly both on the Italian police and officialdom generally, and on the Catholic Church, that’s no surprise. Leon might be tarred and feathered if her novels appeared in Venice bookstores.
Corruption in Venice
The very best crime fiction is not just entertaining but teaches us something about the time or location where the action takes place. Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series does both. Though she is careful to present a balanced view of life in Venice and of the characters in her novels, Brunetti is forced to dance around so many examples of nepotism and venality that it’s clear corruption is endemic. In Dressed for Death, the third novel in the series, the examples of profiteering and favoritism are abundant, especially within the Venice police and an institution linked to the Catholic Church.
Dressed for Death (Commissario Brunetti #3) aka The Anonymous Venetian by Donna Leon @@@@ (4 out of 5)
An engaging plot
Dressed for Death begins with the discovery in a field of a man’s dead body dressed in drag. Even before any other facts are established, the press publishes lurid accounts of a transvestite prostitute murdered by one of his johns. It’s no surprise to learn as Brunetti pursues his investigation that none of this is true. In fact, as we might expect, the murdered man turns out to be a pivotal figure in a major scandal, which Brunetti uncovers, one unsavory layer after another.
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